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Month: January 2013

Bitch!

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The protagonist of my WIP is a bitch, cunning, manipulative, ruthless and murderous. She says the unsayable and does the undoable (if for good reasons). I don’t call her a bitch. I think she’s fine. (Apparently my moral compass is off – it’s only hit and run and she had a good reason!) Someone else, who clearly holds people to higher moral and social standards than I do, dubbed her ‘bitch’. So, it got me thinking about what we mean by ‘bitch’.

It’s only used of women and it’s clearly meant to be bad. But then calling someone ‘the c-word’ is really really bad and that’s just a term for lady bits. But let’s stick with ‘bitch’ for now.

Bitch. Literally, a female dog. Originally slang for a lewd or ill-tempered woman. Then the suggestion of greater evil and (pause for intake of breath) unfaithfulness. When feminism came along, the bitch became bad-good. Along with shoulder pads and spiky heels, we girls needed a bit more earthy fighting spirit (balls?!) to fight patriarchy and claim equality.

In more recent times, some might call them ‘post-feminist’, the term bitch seems to have been further reclaimed and rehabilitated. You can now ‘bitch’n’stitch and there are web magazines for online bitches. These bitches seem a somewhat sanitised version of the foul-mouthed, arsy harridan of yesteryear, sort of ladettes with attitude. Take Elizabeth Wurtzel’s ‘Bitch Rules’, for example. Her rules for a modern day bitch include ‘Eat Dessert’, Be Gorgeous’ and ‘The Only Way to get One Person Off Your Mind is to Get Another One on Your Body’. Whoop. Hundreds of years of female activism and we claim the right to eat, dress up and be promiscuous! Another bitch rule is always ask questions. Why? Because it will make you a provocateur, which is sexy! And here was me thinking asking questions was just a good way to find out what you wanted to know.

The good/bad news is that my protagonist (let’s call her Bev) is not a ladette or a yummy/slummy mummy. She doesn’t have acceptable flaws, such as a penchant for too much white wine, chocolate and the bad boy. She doesn’t go to school in her pyjamas or spend all her money on shoes. She is rude, forthright and Machiavellian. And she is willing to do anything, absolutely anything, to protect her children. That’s my version of the good-bad bitch.

Maybe I need to write some ‘Bev Rules’.

When a story is not a story

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I was talking, ok, ok, gossiping, with a friend. We love to gossip. We have justified this by making a distinction between gossiping to judge and score points and gossiping for the sheer love of people and their stories. We do the latter and, therefore, are not bad people. In fact, we are good people because we are so interested in our fellow human being sharing the journey with us. (Work with me here.)

My friend (she knows who she is, you don’t need to) suggested that rather than making up stories, or reading made up stories, it would be better to have someone’s diary to read, someone interesting, obviously.

I thought about it. Real life can be highly engaging, funny, sad, dramatic, and the characters are obviously complex and real (being, you know, real), but it needs more to make it a story.

An account of all of even one life would include lots of possible stories. They would all get tangled up. If you knit lots of different coloured strands of wool together, you can make lovely patterns. If you just leave them in a heap, they are an unsatisfying lump. Aristotle says that a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end, JUST a beginning, a middle and an end, no extra bits. You don’t get that in a real life. In fact you often don’t get a proper end at all, things can just fizzle out in an unsatisfactory way or merge with another story. And it an be hard to pin down where the start is at all. Real life lacks a satisfying structure.

So, I conclude, gossip/interesting facts and speculations about the lives of other people can provide great material for stories, but are not stories in themselves. And you have to remember the writers’ rule that just because it happened does not make it believable.

Why I need sequinned socks

Recently, I read my work in progress out loud to an audience. It was terrifying. I’ve given presentations, run seminars and read out loud before. But not my own work. Reading it out, volunteering to read it out, is saying ‘I think this is worth listening to’. And that’s opening the door to rejection. Who wants rejection? Who wants rejection of something that is so close to yourself and that you really really want people to like?

I did this because it is something you are meant to do if you want to be taken seriously as a writer. So that’s worse. I’m standing up in front of a bunch of people who love and know about writing and saying: ‘take me seriously as one of those people you study and admire’.

All I could think as I waited for it to be my turn was, why have I agreed to do this? And why did I change the font of my manuscript from Arial to Times New Roman just before printing a copy to read? Times New Roman is tiny and I’m short sighted. When I last went to the optician complaining about my eyesight he kindly informed me that, considering the state of my eyes, I was lucky I could see as well as I could. Err, thanks?

There was one other thing that worried me and that was my lack of sequins. I read this article on public readings. I’m sure it said lots of really helpful things but the key points I remember were don’t drink alcohol and wear sequins. I don’t have anything with sequins. I’m not a sequins kind of gal. I felt naked. So I had a drink. To be honest I did mind less about the sequins after that.

I’d bagged myself a slot in the middle of the first half of the series of readings. The day before I’d been to watch my son in his school Christmas play. He was one of any three children in his class to have a line to say. It was: ‘Three Wise Men entered the stable and laid their gifts before the baby’. I remember. I will probably remember it til I die now (that and the der-der der-der from Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner). The point is that anything about the wise men is right near the end. There are donkeys, stables, babies born, angels and shepherds that all come before that bit. So there was the longest of waits until he got to say his line, until we would know whether he had remembered it and was able to speak slowly and clearly and I would able to restrain myself from leaping up and saying it with him. The tension was terrible. I couldn’t go through that twice in as many days.

So, my time came and I did it. I read the Prologue to my novel. Apparently some people laughed, not just my friends. (Just to be clear, it is supposed to be funny.) I lived. And then I drank. And I didn’t need sequins. Maybe next time though. What if there was no drink?